As the political discussion shifts for a moment to the international stage the Romney camp’s hope is to capitalize on Mitt’s role in saving the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and stress his two foreign policy themes: he will be a stronger military and diplomatic leader of the Free World; and he will be a more reliable partner for our long term allies. Beyond the Olympics, most attention will go Romney’s fourth visit to Israel where he will meet with former Boston Consulting Group colleague Benjamin Netanyahu. The Polish visit is being shrugged off by much of the media, but it may be more important.
On the substance:
– The Poles, caught between Germany and Russia, have embraced the West and the United States since Reagan backed down the Soviet Union. They joined NATO in 1999, the European Union in 2004 (but not the common currency), and have provided units of 2500 troops in Iraq and 2600 in Afghanistan.
– After six years of missile defense negotiation and agreement between the Bush Administration and the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic, Obama abandoned the plan in 2009 without consulting with the Poles and Czechs, and getting nothing in return from the Russians. He chose the 70th anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Poland to make the announcement.
– Beyond the substance, relations with the Obama administration have been prickly. In May Obama offended many Poles by refusing Lech Walesa’s request to represent a WW II Polish hero at a Medal of Freedom ceremony – probably due to Walesa’s caution about our “slipping into socialism”. Obama’s inadvertent reference to “Polish (not Nazi) death camps” at the ceremony, brought the current Polish president’s response that “we always react in the same way when ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions lead to such a distortion of history, so painful for us here in Poland, in a country which suffered like no other in Europe during World War II.” Reagan and the Bush’s were friend of Poland; Obama not so much.
– Romney’s characterization of Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe” plays well in Poland, following Obama’s accidental on-mike assurance to Russian leaders that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with central European issues after the election.
And on the politics:
– Narrowly, there are about 10 million people of Polish ancestry in the United States. In a time of ethnic politics – African-Americans for Obama; Hispanics for Obama – they are an identifiable subset of “Reagan Democrats”, making up 9.3% of voters in Wisconsin, 8.6 % in Michigan, and 6.7% in Pennsylvania where the election promises to be very close.
– Few seem to be watching the large geopolitical trends, but as we have been focused on the Muslim world since 9/11 (Iraq; Afghanistan; the Arab Spring), Putin’s Russia has gone about consolidating the Kremlin’s power internally, and reestablishing it’s hegemony over much of the former Soviet Union with the Georgia War in 2008, and the establishment of the Belarus/Kazakhstan/Russia Customs Union in 2010.
There are lots of options for Romney to make symbolic visits to allies who have been shorted by the Obama Administration – Canada; Mexico; the United Kingdom; Germany; Japan – but his choice of Poland shows both a bit of “out of the box” thinking, and a broad geopolitical grasp. Not that the media will give him credit for a very real foreign policy difference with the Obama administration.
Senator Scott Brown’s “Let America Be America Again” is the best political ad in a long time – bipartisan references, patriotic, pro-jobs, and even pro Red Sox.